Friday, September 14, 2012

Norman England: The Flowering of The Legend #5

Was Glastonbury the Burial Place of King Arthur?
Norman England: The Flowering of The Legend #5
By: Donna Fletch Crow

Bors rolled onto his side and flung out an arm. With the motion he came wide awake. “Garth?” He reached out for the shaggy coat of the black and white sheepdog who ever slept curled next to his pallet.
            The dog was gone. Still rubbing his eyes, Bors sprang to his feet. “Garth!” If there had been danger to the sheep peacefully sleeping in the fold behind him, the dog would have wakened him.
            All was quiet in the byre. Bors left the doorway of the fold and rounded the corner of the building. Then he stopped. How long had he slept? How could the sky be so light already? Surely this was the blackest hour when the brothers at the abbey across the fens should have been saying their first prayers.
            But a strange glow came from the direction of the abbey. Garth ran to him, jumping up with his muddy paws, an insistent whimpering in his throat, as if he would lead Bors to a lamb caught in a bramble. Bors shook his head to clear it. No mere endangered lamb filled the night with such strangeness. Garth’s yapping cut through the last wisps of sleep-fog, and Bors knew.                      “Fire! Fire! The abbey’s on fire!” Even in his alarm Bors made certain the sheepfold door was barred before he ran toward the grange. “Brother Gellert! Brother Gellert! Brother Arald!”                       
            Bors ran faster, for even as he ran, he could see the sky growing redder, as if the firmament had suddenly chosen to defy its Creator’s laws and decided to spread forth a blazing sunrise at two o’ the morning.     
            “Brothers! Brothers! Wake up!” Bors sobbed as he beat on the door of the grange while Garth’s earlier whines and throat-throttled growls burst into impatient barks. It was now as if they could smell the smoke, although surely that wasn’t possible at a distance of almost a mile.

The great abbey of Glastonbury, built up through the ages from the tiny, wattle and daub, thatch-roofed church that Joseph of Arimathea built to honour the Mother of our Lord, enlarged to a fine stone structure by St. Dunstan and extended by King Ine, housing great manuscripts from all over Christendom: the writings of St. Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmsbury and, of course, the Holy Scriptures illuminated in gold and scarlet by the careful hands of toiling monks— The work and worship and scholarship of the ages was being consumed in a raging inferno.

And yet the simple shepherd boy rushed into the flames to save the holy treasure on the altar of the Old Church.

And so that same shepherd boy, given to the Glastonbury monks by the brother who despised him, was witness to the great discovery that was to spark the magnificent rebuilding of Glastonbury Abbey.

An ancient brother of the house has died and in preparing his burial place the brothers uncover evidence of another, deeper burial:

            “And this gravestone— was it inscribed?” Bors asked.
            “Smoothed and shaped with great care, but unmarked by name or date,” Ambrose replied.
            “So? Surely there were many graves so covered when new soil was added.”
            “Ah, yes, but under the stone—” Ambrose’s long, somber face suddenly lit with an excitement he could not contain, and he gripped Bors’s shoulder.
            “On the underside, as if the stone sheltered too great a secret for the eyes of man, was a leaden cross with the inscription: ‘HIC JACET SEPULTUS INCLYTUS REX ARTHURIUS IN INSULA AVALONIA.’” Ambrose repeated the words as the holiest of prayers, and his face took on a radiance.
            Bors nodded slowly. “‘ Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.’ Yes, I remember when King Henry came to Glastonbury and told us he had heard of some such from a Welsh bard— but there was never any search made for the grave. . .”

With renewed vigor and the offerings of devout pilgrims the monks rebuild Glastonbury Abbey to become the most splendid in the land. And Bors, the boy who tended sheep realized his life’s dream of becoming a knight and going on Crusade with Richard the Lionheart. And yet he returns to the place that holds his heart and his dreams to find the greatest jewel of all— the Pearl of Great Price for which he had searched all his life.

Glastonbury saw it all:

Joseph of Arimathea and his little band of pilgrims, seeking refuge from Roman persecution, flee to this tiny, sheltered island on the west coast of Britannia, bringing with them their most sacred possession- the Holy Grail;

The holy Isle of Avalon provides refuge for renewal of courage as King Arthur and his knights fight off the invading barbarian hoard, then it becomes his final resting place;

A devastating fire threatens to destroy the work and worship of centuries, but Arthur's bones provide the impetus for yet more magnificent building, a greater flowering of the faith;

Until the last abbot is drug to his death atop the Tor and the splendid arches are left to crumble.

But still the faithful seek the greatest prize of all- The Holy Grail.

Through all the ages history and legend intertwine around these broken arches, standing a beacon of hope and light for the future.

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. Besides the award-winning Glastonbury, Donna is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave  and A Darkly Hidden Truth, as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries.

Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To read more about all of Donna’s books  and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:

Twitter: @DonnaFletchCr

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